Thu, 9/9 5:09PM • 50:11
life, stress, mental health, awareness, wisdom, self-knowledge. people, journey, yoga, impurity, struggle, swami, means, connection, pain, life problem, opportunity, spiritual teaching, mind, order, perfection, peace of mind, happiness, progress, spiritual growth.
Learning to drive our vehicle:
Today we talk about life struggles and about the relationship between life struggles and stress, what is stress, and the relationship between stress and disease so we become aware of what we are doing. The most important thing we need to remember, Swami Sivananda said that life is a struggle. If you cease to struggle, you cease life. We are equipped with all the tools in order for us to lead our life.
It’s like when you have a good vehicle, but you don’t know how to drive. If you drive in the wrong manner at the same time accelerating and at the same time pushing on the break, what happens? You damage the vehicle. You are not going anywhere and you create stress and tension and harm the vehicle. We need to understand with clarity what life is. Why is life so difficult on earth? Sometimes it is more difficult than other times. What do we do in order to win the battle or to come out the other side somehow, not too damaged, even winning? The idea is the more we understand the battle of life the more we are able to use our tools, our equipment correctly and get help.
I am here teaching yoga trying to reach out to as many as possible. We are here to support this life struggle. You need to understand why yoga discipline will support you. When we do not understand why we need to practice yoga and to make use of the yoga discipline in order for us to be strong and winning the battle of life, then we neglect our sadhana or our yoga practice.
Life is a conscious stream:
First, I am going to read from Swami Sivananda words on what is life. He says that life is a conscious stream. That means that life is constantly moving like a river. If you stand at one place and watch the river flow it is different water, it looks like the same water, but it just keeps flowing past without stopping for a moment. Life is like that. It is a conscious stream. It is constantly moving. We have to pay attention that sometimes we stop the flow and that is a problem. We have to understand that life is flowing so we can go with it.
There is life in everything. Sometimes we think that there is life only if there are certain conditions met. That is wrong thinking. There is life in everything. The idea or challenge is to find the meaning, to find life, in all situations. It is a conscious stream. That means that we need to be aware, to know. Our challenge is to know what the meaning is of our life. Yoga teaches this.
Life is a journey, a trip, but you need to know from where to where so that you can interpret the struggles of life. Interpret means you become aware that this is what you are struggling with and then you can wisely find the tools in order to support you. Sivananda said life is a voyage in the infinite ocean of time. It is important to understand that life does not start at birth and does not end at death. He said “infinite ocean of time”. That means you have gone through different experiences in this life, but also in past lives. According to the theory of karma and reincarnation, there is past life, and there will be future life also. There will be future opportunities to experience different experiences in order for you to pay off your karmic debt. In order for you to have other kinds of experience, to complete the picture so you can eventually become perfect. Life is a voyage in the infinite ocean of time. Scenes are perpetually changing. This life is only a chapter in the book of your life. When you read a novel there are different chapters. Different chapters have other people coming in, new characters, new plot, and different scenery all together.
From impurity to purity:
Life is a journey from impurity to purity. That means we go towards our purity, our state of perfection where there is no blockage, blemish or difficulty that comes from our wrong vision of who we are. Yoga philosophy says that we are pure light. We are pure consciousness. We are the source of life and light itself. However, sometimes when you use a seeing glass to see, and there is a crack or dirt on the glass, then you see everything with this dirt. That is impurity. We need to remove the dirt in order to see clearly and that is the process of life.
According to the theory of yoga, there are three kinds of impurities. There is the impurity that comes from egoism – which means the wrong idea of self. There is also the impurity that comes from the nature of the mind all the time jumping and restless and projecting different ideas, stories and scenarios and we need to calm that mind down in order for us to see correctly the beauty that is behind the movies. The mind is constantly projecting different stories, different movies, and different drama. The effort is to calm the mind in order for you to see the beautiful picture behind. The third impurity according to the philosophy of yoga is the veiling nature of the mind. The mind not only projects false ideas about yourself and about things and makes you restless and you run after it, but also it veils your true nature, it veils your consciousness, your awareness or your knowledge of the True Self. You can learn all this if you take Vedanta courses in our yoga teacher training course. The impurities that we are born with create our sense of struggle. Life is a journey from impurity to purity, is a journey of purification
From hatred to cosmic love:
Life is also a journey from hatred to cosmic love. We start with a lot of hatred in our heart, or you can say disliking and liking. When you have a lot of dislikes and likes in your mind then you would have hatred and bits of love that is not satisfied. In order for us to experience this cosmic love – that means this very complete, very freeing, very expanded, unconditional love – we need to go through the journey of life that presents to us many opportunities to hate in order for us to develop the capacity to love unconditionally.
Recognize the true story about your life:
I share with you the pointers that Swami Sivananda gives in order for you to recognize what is the true story about your life. When you struggle with life, we always blame some external force, somebody or circumstance, but it is not true. It is something that is happening inside of you independent from what is happening externally, or the thing happening externally is only to help you to understand something that is happening internally. The journey of yoga is the journey to understand that journey that is happening within you. Know where you are at and find the tools and resources in order for you to help yourself on that journey so that you do not spend so much energy, so much effort, sometimes uselessly and end up in stress and disease.
Prevent disease and premature death
What does disease mean? The system breaks down. When it breaks down you become sick and then you die. That’s all. You die earlier, but if you help yourself then the system becomes stronger, resistant and you do not have to die so early. That means you have more opportunities to continue your learning. If not, according to the theory of yoga, life is not finished when you die and you will continue another time. However, it’s a waste. It’s too bad, like you say when you see people who are young die. It’s too bad because they had an opportunity to experience life. Again, we need to understand what experience of life we need to all experience. Sometimes we think it is the experience of sensual enjoyment. It is not. We think we are born with the body, the mind, and the senses in order for us to enjoy life. Swami Sivananda, who was a wise sage and teacher, explained that this is not the case. We are here to learn certain lessons. The meaning of life is to learn certain lessons. If you learn it faster, it is better.
Now we continue to figure out what is the meaning of life so you can cooperate with it and you can understand where you are from and where you are going. You are from that mind that has strong likes and dislikes, strong hatred. You are going toward love that is not selfish, that is unconditional. We call it cosmic love.
Journey from death to immortality:
You are going from death to immortality. What that means is eventually we understand all our lessons and we do not have to be reborn. We become complete and fulfilled and that journey, that cycle of life and death will automatically cease because we have attained the complete full knowledge of ourselves. I just talked about this connection between disease and death and destruction of our instrument faster than we need because we do not know how to drive our vehicle and the spending of energy and spending of prana that makes us actually die early. The journey is you need to come from mortality to eventually the realization of our immortality, from imperfection to perfection.
From imperfection to perfection:
You started in life imperfect and we move towards perfection. Don’t try to condemn people when you see their imperfection because if you look at yourself also you have had some kind of trait of character that is quite difficult and then you struggle with it for a long time and now you become much more peaceful or stronger with it and you can look at somebody else. Know that everyone is progressing. Everyone is moving from imperfection to perfection. Have compassion when you see people struggle, but also hold the space for them – that means have a vision of them that is the highest, because they might not be able to see themselves, but you will be able to see them. You hold the space for them. Let’s say somebody struggles with anger. You have a vision of them completely peaceful, no anger. That thought of yours also will help them.
Journey from slavery to freedom:
Life is a journey from slavery to freedom. Sometimes you see people alienated. Not because of the external condition, like now some of you live in a condition where you cannot be free to go out, be free to shop, be free to entertain yourself, be free to travel. The whole world is subject to that by the universe, there is some universal teaching here to the whole world to turn inward and to slow down. I say that the world is somehow feverish, has caught a sickness. When a person is sick we tell them to go to bed, rest, take it easy. All the plans of “I need to do this and this and this” calm down, modify, and change. You start to realize, “oh, it’s not so important. I can change my plan and conserve my energy and turn inward.” So the world now is forced to turn inward, to slow down. Everything is contradicted. Our normal way of life is contradicted, we cannot go on. We are in some sort of crisis situation and life struggle becomes stronger than normal.
Life is a journey from slavery to freedom. Even in that condition, when you feel you cannot do anything, you can find your inner freedom. This is the yoga teaching. You can find the freedom from within you. Freedom is from within you. Freedom is not from outside. Some people in different circumstances are “free”, but the more they are free – to travel, eat what they like, think what they like, talk what they like – they feel very alienated. There is a false freedom. We need to discover the true freedom from within.
From diversity to unity:
The journey of life also means the journey from diversity to unity. From seeing the differences between you and me, different cultures, languages, religious beliefs, characters, genders, colors. We are looking out and seeing only the differences. That kind of vision creates the unnecessary struggles that we have. Sometimes we get into war, we get into crimes, and we get into all kinds of conflict. We need to understand that our journey is from diversity to unity. Seeing our diversity, but seeing at the same time the oneness that is behind.
From ignorance to wisdom:
Our journey also is a journey from ignorance to eternal wisdom. Some people want to study and they get a certificate in university, they finish, and they don’t know what to do with their life. They get another certificate, and another, and another, but they always feel empty. What is the reason? They feel the lack of knowledge because they are not in connection with the Self. That state of ignorance is not the intellectual ignorance or the technical ignorance; it’s a state of darkness not being able to connect with yourself. According to yoga, that is ignorance. The more you are able to understand that you do not know, the more you have a chance to know. The problem is that people think that they know and they act out and create a lot more trouble for themselves, but if they slow down, like now how the world is forcing you to slow down, then you start to know that you do not know. Then at that time, you switch your thinking, your priority and try to find true knowledge. That is eternal wisdom. You become wise. All the life crises we go through are to teach us to become wise.
Journey from pain to eternal bliss:
Life is a journey from pain to eternal bliss. Life is full of pain. Physical pain. We go to the doctor and we hope that the doctor will heal us, give us this pill, that pill. Some people eat a cocktail of pills because they have so much different pains. Sometimes the doctor interpret the pains as only external symptoms. Sometimes modern medicine cannot see the connection between the different pains. Then they give you different remedies for different kinds of pain in different systems of the body, but do not quite understand the connection. The connection between the physical body and the astral, or mental, body is very important to understand. The connection between the mental body, or the mental state of affairs, and our spirit is very important to understand. That’s what we try to understand in order for us to not self-create more pain and if there is already pain, to be able to detach from the pain, to be able to accept the pain and find happiness or bliss within the pain. It looks impossible, but that is the teaching of yoga. Every topic in yoga takes a lot of explanation in order for you to understand.
Our journey is from weakness to infinite strength. If you are suffering right now, it is because of some kind of weakness. This philosophy of yoga can be difficult to accept. We always think our suffering comes from some external source, but our suffering comes from our own weaknesses. We have to understand what is it that we need to equip ourselves in order for us to become stronger. Life is a journey to become stronger and stronger. Sometimes we think that strength means to push, to make an effort and to display violence toward ourselves, or outside of ourselves. We call that strength, but it is not. Actually, it is weakness. The yoga philosophy will define for you what is real strength. There are scriptures that teach about the ways to behave in order for you not to be caught in reactivity, in conflict, in unnecessary comparison or competition with others, and how to become strong by yourself, how to overcome your weakness. What is the way to interpret our strength and our weakness at the same time? Similar to muscles in the body, sometimes we like to exercise certain muscles, do certain postures that we like because the muscles are strong so we can do it. When we have a certain weakness in the body then we don’t like to do it. We like to skip this weakness. The yoga teaching is that you need to exercise the weak muscles more and you exercise less the strong muscles so that we avoid the compensation. If there is a weakness and a strength, there is always what we call compensation. The idea is you need to be very patient to work on our weakness and eventually everything will balance out.
Life is service an sacrifice:
Life is a great opportunity provided so that we can evolve. Life is service and sacrifice – a different meaning of life that Swami Sivananda gave you. It’s not just for enjoyment of the senses and then sleep, eat, and then die. It’s not like that. Life is service. Understand the relationship between you and other people around you. Understand that if you work for other people, you love other people unconditionally, and you serve them you actually elevate yourself. There is a story of a disciple and a teacher going through the different compartments of hell. They come to one place and they see the people there very much suffering. Why? Because all the people in the room have a fused elbow. The elbow cannot bend. They cannot eat food, pick up things, or scratch their head. The main thing is that they cannot eat food. They are very frustrated and angry. Then the disciple and the teacher go to another compartment and they see that these people are very happy and they have the same problem. All the elbows are fused and yet people are very happy. Why? Because they feed each other.
We need to help each other. We need to serve each other because it serves ourselves. It makes ourselves happy. Life is service and sacrifice.
Life is love. How to find love in this life is the most important question. Life is relationship. Through truly developing relationship, correct relationship, positive relationship with each other we enhance our life. Swami Sivananda says that life is poetry, but not prose. That means not dry. It’s poetry, it’s a song. Life is a song. Life is art and imagination. We are here as passing pilgrims, which means temporarily. Our journey here on earth in this time, circumstances, and body is temporary. Remember that. Our destination is our perfection. Our life is a quest, or the questioning for the lost inheritance, for something we had, but somehow now we don’t have. We have forgotten something that is very fundamental and that’s how we feel very empty and sad.
The central goal of life is realization of oneness:
Understand that the goal of your life is to come into the conscious realization of our oneness. Conscious means that you see it, you know it, and you understand it. Realization is where you say, “oh my god, I did not understand that. I did not understand that when I harm somebody I harm myself. I did not understand that I abuse the animals and how now it creates some problems in climate change. I did not see the connection between my violent behaviors toward some being and now the flood, the virus, the fire and all those things are happening to me. I did not see the connection.”
There is a connection in everything. We need to come to the conscious realization of our oneness. The opportunity to understand it is now. It is not tomorrow. It is not in the book. It is now. The more that you are in a challenging space, the more you need to dive deep within and find the reason. Transform yourself. You cannot transform something outside. The more we tried to change something outside, the more we are powerless. The more we equip ourselves with this right attitude and the right practices in order for us to elevate our immune system – that includes the positive thinking and positive lifestyle – then the more we improve our immune system, then the more we become strong. We become immune to diseases.
The central goal of life is the coming into a conscious realization of our oneness. If within the difficulties that you find yourself now, within the struggles, and you start to have these wise insights: “Oh I am not alone. My life is not that bad really. Look at this other person’s life. They struggle much harder. They have no food to eat. They are starving and I am complaining that the food that I prefer is not being served.” We start to see this connection. We start to open our heart and understand consciously this oneness. At that time the challenging condition, the difficulties you have, is an opportunity only and you become grateful. The moment you open your heart and you understand the meaning of life you become so grateful, because you have your life back immediately. You don’t feel empty, you don’t feel blameful, you don’t feel resentment. You have your life back. You connect to the source of life. Then you become so joyful.
Swami Sivananda said that life has no meaning as a separate life. In the time of challenge, of Covid pandemic, we have the tendency to become more isolated because we cannot meet with our friends, we cannot mingle, we cannot touch and talk and we become almost suspicious of other people. At the same time, you have to open your heart. It’s a delicate kind of balance. How? You have to be very careful of opportunities of infection by some kind of contagious disease. At the same time, how will you open your heart more to find the oneness? That is the challenge. That is why we say this is a challenging time. How to find unity in diversity? How to find joy in difficulties? How to find peace when we are not peaceful? How to find strength when you find you want to collapse? Know that you are going through a test. The whole world is going through a test. Knowing that you are going through a test will give you more strength. It’s not like this forever. It is a test only, so try to be strong.
Life on earth is a school to learn to see spirit in matter.
One more teaching that is important is life in matter and life in spirit. Swami Sivananda says that life in matter, that means life on Earth, is a school. The struggle of life is that you need to fight. Not fight with each other, but fight with your own negative tendencies. Boldly face all the difficulties and tribulations of this earthly life, be a person with courage, and know that life is a school. Live a simple life in an unassuming manner. Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate and Realize. See life as one, as a whole. See the unity of life. Smile with a flower and a green grass. Smile with everybody and everything that you meet.
Stress & anxiety stop the flow of life force:
If not, if you don’t follow the flow of life then you will stop the flow and that’s when you come into stress. You will spend the prana or the life resource uselessly when you try to do things that are impossible or not worth it. You will waste your prana when you don’t know how to connect with nature, connect with the source of prana or life source that is within you and you are very anxious so you become more rigid. When you are fearful, you become paralyzed and more rigid. The more you become rigid, less accommodating, less flexible, fearful then the more that the flow of life obstructs and the more the thing that you are afraid of becomes even more serious. You aggravate the problem to yourself. I wish for you to understand the mechanism that challenges you for a reason. Face the challenge, become strong and don’t create unnecessary problem for yourself by this negative reaction that one has toward the challenge. Think of it as a positive opportunity and try to cure yourself from anxiety.
Anxiety is a big word these days. People are very anxious. It is said when you are anxious it is because you think of the future. You are regretful when you think of the past. You are anxious when you think of the future. If you find yourself anxious, you need to think of the present. You live in the present. If you can apply yoga techniques, they help you live in the present. Do the breathing, do the relaxation, and do the meditation so you can be in the present, so you can face the challenge that your own mind creates. You solve this big crisis of the world. How do you solve it? You solve it from yourself, not expecting someone to solve it. There is just you. You solve the problem by turning within and trying to control and elevate your mind.
Know that from stress comes disease. Research shows that 95% of the diseases comes from stress. If you are stressed that means you become rigid and you are not adapting. When you stress, you have disease. From disease comes destruction of the body, the cells, and death. Face that. Is it a message that you like to hear? This morning is a very serious message and you might not like to hear this, but this is what we need to face.
Thank you very much for being here. Anything that we, all the yoga teachers, can do to support you – there are many yoga teachers all over the world that understand this teaching. Go to the yoga teacher or the wise people and get yourself support and help. Don’t be alone because you are not alone. Your problem is not a personal problem. Even though you have to solve the problem from yourself, but your problem is one of ignorance of this whole world.
Hari Om Tat Sat.
Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam. She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).
Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.
Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.